No coal trains in Oakland, California

From the March-April 2016 issue of News & Letters

Oakland, Calif.—On Feb. 16, pastors from several African-American churches, Jewish rabbis, Native American spiritual leaders, Sierra Club, System Change Not Climate Change, and representatives from many other groups spoke and rallied outside City Hall against allowing trains from Utah to pass through Oakland to unload millions of tons of coal at a new port terminal. We then lined up to speak at the City Council hearings, which went on late into the night.

Photo credit: Ron Kelch for News & Letters

Photo credit: Ron Kelch for News & Letters

At issue was the Council’s proposal to hire pro-development Environmental Science Associates to evaluate Terminal Logistics Solutions’ plan to open the new terminal for exporting coal in exchange for a $53 million investment from four Utah counties.

Terminal Logistics Solutions had solicited support from Oakland’s African-American community with a promise to bring jobs. Speakers not only saw these jobs as a mirage but as immoral because furthering the extraction of fossil fuels is subjecting the world to ecological suicide.

Some spoke of the need for jobs in alternative energy. All recognize this ploy as a form of environmental racism in light of all the toxic particulate matter coal trains would release in an already asthma-inducing area of West Oakland.

Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project said coal was never mentioned as part of the terminal project in her neighborhood. “I don’t need it at this stage of my life.” She added: “Flint, Michigan, coming to Oakland.” The Council put off any action on an Environmental Science Associates contract in the face of this widespread community opposition.

Several local trade unions formally announced their opposition to the coal trains. Only labor in everyday life that is not a mere means to earn a living, but one with life and a rational metabolism with nature, can turn this insanity around. While the fossil fuel industry may have bought most of the politicians in Washington, locally there is not only deep opposition but a sense of global responsibility for the planet. Utah coal shipped through Oakland would be burned mostly in China and exacerbate global warming. People here don’t want to be a part of that. There’ll be no coal in Oakland.

–Ron Kelch

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